Thursday, March 31, 2011

Settling in and getting started

The first two and a half weeks here have been the incredible transition of dreams into realities. It has been sore butts (road tripping) to sore backs, and soft hands to calluses (and blisters). We spent a few days getting settled into the house and our respective rooms and then got to work.

Alan surveys the finished water catchment.
A big priority from the beginning was water retention, because it gets pretty dry here during the summer. There is a spring with a spring-house, so we built a 300-gallon catchment below it out of an old cattle sweet feed barrel that we found. The water was murky at first from all the digging but now it's crystal clear.

We’ve turned the stuffy den termed the “Republican room” into a warm, sunny spot to germinate starts. Dinosaur kale, Cossack Pineapple ground cherries, Red Acre cabbage, and Green Zebra tomatoes are just a few of the beautiful heirloom varieties found in the many flats of little seedlings currently in the loving care of the farmers four. We are using only natural light, cold frames, and a homemade potting mix.

Fran holding a section showing sheet mulch layers.
Building sustainable soil fertility is of fundamental importance to this project, and we began developing this before we even moved into Twin Oaks. Fran and Jacob were here in October of 2010 and sheet mulched the main 26’ X 70’ garden plot. Their hard work has paid off five months later with soil that has been entirely transformed into rich black loam teeming with life! We’ve created more garden space by sheet mulching, including our beautiful Om-shaped bed, two keyhole beds, a hugelkutur bed, and the flower beds lining the breezeway. To suppress weeds and retain soil moisture, we plan to cover all of our nearly 2000 square feet of bed space with a thick natural mulch layer that we’ve been making ourselves with collected materials (leaves, tree limbs, grasses, acorn shells) and a handy little wood chipper.

Chickens enjoying the new chicken house.
There is a small shed just to the south of the main garden which contained a handful of rusty tools and tons of rat-gnawed dusty junk. We cleaned it out, removed the old shoddy workbench and converted it into a beautiful chicken house. We picked up four year-old laying hens on tuesday to jump-start our egg production, and we'll be getting six or eight hatchling chicks in about two weeks to round out our little brood.

Left to right: saurkraut, vinegar, kombucha, sourdough.
When not wielding pick axes, mauls, machetes and shovels for the sustainable garden cause, we’ve been keeping ourselves busy diving right into the homesteading lifestyle: Fresh baked bread. Hummus. Kombucha (yes, Scoby Steve lives!). Gurgling wild yeast sourdough starters. Pressed apple cider vinegar. Herb cheese. Fermenting crocks of sauerkraut. Homebrew beer (Alan’s cinnamon oatmeal stout will be ready in a few weeks, and we will soon brew our own jasmine IPA). Mmm, gotta love that self-sufficiency!

Working outside completing projects of our own design, built with our intention, molded to our goals is incredibly empowering. There are no imposed rules to follow or expectations to fulfill. WE ARE LUCKY! That being said, we have set a few for ourselves, a foundation on which we are trying to live so that we can increase our physical and mental health and decrease our negative impact on the natural world and the people that we rely on for goods and services. The majority of these “guiding principles” structure how and what we consume. We’ve decided that whenever possible we will rely on resources from our land over purchasing - fortunately, there are lots of miscellaneous materials scattered around the farm already. If we do buy goods we try to do it locally and in the most socially, ethically, and environmentally responsible way available. It’s definitely a challenge and an experiment, increasingly so with all the building that we’ve been doing.

This opportunity would never have been available to us without the support and generosity of Meredith Skelton - she has helped make our dreams reality. Thank you Meredith!
Meredith and the farmers the day after arrival.

Much love,
Alan, Fran, Jacob, and Kelsey

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Driving East

After nearly a year of preparation and the whole gamut of goodbyes, we piled about 1500lbs. of personal possessions and our four selves into our christmas-colored truck on a snowy February morning in Olympia, WA and began our adventure East. We drove first to Boise, ID and stayed with Alan's sister for two nights, and met Kelsey's cousin for breakfast on our way out of town. We drove south through Utah and eventually the snowfall became so heavy that even after dark it was easier to see with the headlights off than with them on! We were tired and delayed several hours, but after a 12+ hour drive we finally arrived at our motel just outside of Zion National Park.

Zion was a stunningly beautiful place,
snow dusted red-rock canyons scattered with cacti, naked trees and juniper. We spent a full day hiking around the more accessible sections of the park, doing a little bit of bouldering and scrambling where the rock was exposed and just enjoying the vistas. The sun came out in the afternoon and we got glimpses of blue skies before the sun went down.

Las Vegas is a few beautiful hours drive from Zion but it truly is a world away. Fran’s parents graciously hosted, fed, and entertained us for two days. We explored a sustainable living education center, similar to the Seattle Science Center, ate great food, and gambled a little (Kelsey was the big winner $8!).

After losing the skis off the top of the truck in the middle of a Las Vegas intersection we were headed southeast for the Saguaro National Forest. Twelve hours of varied desert landscapes: Saguaro Cacti, Joshua Trees, and dust. We caught a spectacular desert sunset in Tucson and then began looking for a place to spend the night. The intention to camp ended after a few failed attempts at finding a spot close enough to the highway and we crashed in a good ol’ Motel 6.
We left the motel outside of Tucson ready for a long drive and made good enough time that we were about an hour ahead of schedule when we got to El Paso, TX. About 30 minutes east of El Paso there is a US Border Patrol checkpoint, and we were lucky enough to be selected for a search. We sat in the office while a man we referred to as "Vin Diesel" started unloading our life possessions from the back of the truck but got less than 1/3 of the way into the bed before giving up to re-pack. They had set aside a package of brewer's corn sugar that probably looked suspiciously like cocaine, but in the end we left with all of our belongings and no further hassle.

After 14 hours on the road we got into San Antonio and met Fran's old friend Alanna from middle school. We chatted with her and her mother for awhile and they kindly housed us for our two nights in SA. The next day we went and saw Fran's old house on the army base and then went downtown. We had some drinks on the riverwalk (you can walk and drink as long as you stay on the riverwalk!) and saw the site of the Alamo with Alanna and her boyfriend before dinner. That evening we chatted with Alanna and her folks for several hours - their hospitality was amazing and we had a great time in San Antonio!

The next morning we drove to Austin and met Jacob's friends from UW, Joe and Emma, who are in Austin for school. We had a delicious lunch with them at a taco truck and then explored some of the artsy parts of the downtown area. In the evening we were joined by Kelsey's friends Meg and Steve to celebrate Meg's birthday. We had Avocado margaritas and delicious mexican food before crashing for the night.
Leaving Austin was daunting, nearly black rain clouds and the promise of 10 hours of driving between us and The Big Easy. Pounding rain became monotonous until we learned at a rural Louisiana gas station that we had been driving, and were going to continue driving, through a tornado storm system. We made it through and pulled into Phyllus’s (a relative of our good friends the Monthie family). We had unintentionally arrived in New Orleans for Carnival, the days leading up to Mardi Gras. After a restful night sleep we wandered through sleepy New Orleans neighborhoods into downtown, passing middle aged men smoking hangover cigars and groups of young 20’s drinking from red cups. Mardi Gras is massive crowds, parades, serious drinking, music, beads, evangelical Christian sign holders and more. We joined the fun northwest style,grabbing a micro brewed 6-pack to
wander the streets. We spent the day meandering about the French Quarter, eating good food, drinking beer, listening to
music, and simply watching the madness.

The next morning left us with a question: drive 8 hours and camp in the Smokey Mountains or make the 14 hour trek to our new home? The decision was easy and by sunset we were cresting the rolling Appalachian hills. After almost a year of theoretical planning, and 12 days of discussion, the final hours of the drive felt heavy with expectation. Despite all of our "plans" the approach was filled with similar questions of what the next 8 months would bring us. Throwing any worries to the side we sang our way into our new driveway and embraced Meredith Skelton (the woman who is making this all possible) who was waiting with hot food, wine, and optimistic excitement.